Interview with Celeste Yarnall | Live a Little, Love a Little
August 4, 2019
Celeste plays Ellen, the girl at the party, with all the astrological reasons why she and Elvis just can't possibly be matched up. However, not one to be easily discouraged, Elvis woos her by showing her a box with blinking lights, and by singing A Little Less Conversation. Their brief romance is interrupted, however, by Michele Carey hooverin' up a storm in Elvis' apartment, effectively driving Celeste away!
Michele Carey, Elvis Presley and Celeste Yarnall in Live a Little, Love a Little.
Q : Celeste, how were you discovered?
A : It's a fun story. I was 17, fresh out of high school. And I was taking a shortcut to get to one of my very first commercial auditions. And one of the guards at General Service Studios. He let me take the shortcut to go through the studio to get to this commercial audition. The commercial audition was a hair product called Show Curl. And so, I was all decked out, you know, trying to look much older than my 17 years at the time, and walked through the studio. And Rick Nelson and his friend Charlie Brett and some of the other guys were tossing the football around. And when I walked by in my high heels and my cute little outfit, they starting with me and cat calling. And then people started coming out of their offices. And before we knew it, there was absolute pandemonium. And I was, you know, shaking like the scared little kid that I was. So, Ozzie Nelson comes out of his office. And he goes, 'What on earth is going on out here?' A mini riot had broken out, and I was dying, of course. So he said, 'Anybody that can stop traffic on this lot deserves to be on our show. Would you like to be on the show?' And I said, 'I'd love to be on the show'. But, you know, I'm not a member of the union or anything yet. I'm just getting started. And he said, 'Well, we'll take care of that. We'll get you your union card'. And that's a really big deal. So, he did. He got me into the Screen Actors Guild. And I had one line on 'Ozzie And Harriet'. And I'll never forget the line. It was, 'Are you coming with us, Roberta?' And, of course, Roberta said something, and I said, 'Okay, see you later'. And that was my very first role on television.
Q : How did you find out about the role in 'Live A Little, Love A Little'?
A : Well, I originally auditioned for Michelle Carey's role.
So, they had brought me in for the lead. And I know they liked me. And it must have gotten pretty close between she and I. So, I believe they created the role of Ellen for me. It may have already existed. The original title of the script was 'Kiss My Firm But Pliant Lips'. Ah, Elvis had firm but pliant lips.
Elvis Presley and Celeste Yarnall in Live a Little, Love a Little.
My first day, they brought me down to meet Elvis like a wardrobe test or a day before I was supposed to film. And I really couldn't believe I was going to get the opportunity to meet him. I just thought, 'Oh, yeah. Sure. Yeah, Elvis wants to meet me, right? Uh-huh'. But he did. And, you know, my heart stopped beating. I mean, I don't know how I got through the initial conversation. And to make matters worse, one of the first days of shooting, I've always been terrible with alarm clocks. I can't set alarm clocks. They never go off on time for me. So, I use that service to this day, that, you know, 976-WAKE. And then I had an answering service that would call me and wake me up. Because I'm paranoid about sleeping through the time I'm supposed to get up. And, you know, alarm clocks, the sound of them is not, you know... I just hate it. Well, the answering service didn't wake me up. And then I get a call from the second A.D., 'Miss Yarnall..'. 'Yes'. 'You're due in make-up now'. 'Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Don't worry about it. I'll do my own make-up I'll throw some rollers in my hair. I'll make it. I'll make it. I've got the dress at home'. You know, I flew over to MGM. And I made it to the set. And I believe that was the big kissing scene with Elvis. I got paid for that. Remember that. I got paid for kissing Elvis.
Q : Had you ever seen Elvis before?
A : I actually had seen Elvis once before. He was actually shopping with a bunch of his male friends, the entourage. I bet I know some of them now. He was actually shopping at The Broadway. And our eyes did meet. I don't think I ever told him that story. But, yes, he was there and, you know, looked great. But Elvis looked so good. Elvis was so healthy when we did 'Live A Little, Love A Little'. I mean, I'm so blessed that I knew him when he was at his best. Lisa Marie had just been born. So, it was a special time. And we had lunch every day together in his dressing room. And we became very dear friends. We had a spiritual connection. We loved a lot of the same books. I'm sure Larry Geller has told you about Kahlil Gibran and the Prophet and Sudartha. You know, he had such an open mind. He was so willing to learn. And yet he had such a wonderful background of being such a southern gentleman, you know, who loved his mother. And I just felt he treated me like a princess. I adored him, absolutely loved him dearly.
Q : There's a touching story about Martin Luther King.
A : Right. This was the week that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. So here I am with one of the roles of a lifetime, meeting and working with Elvis in 'Live A Little, Love A Little', with this tragedy on television. So, we go back to his dressing room to have lunch. Elvis sang 'Amazing Grace' to me. And he sobbed in arms like a baby, because he was so, so devastated by Martin Luther King's assassination. And, you know, he felt that he was such an integral part of the Black community and that he felt that they had taken a brother from him. And he told me that he had felt embraced by the Black community, because his struggle had been so, so big. And they felt that he was one of the only White singers that could sing with soul. And we know that to be true. So, we both cried. And it was a very touching time to go through that together.
Q : On those times that you had lunch together, are there any special times that come to mind?
A : I do remember what we had for lunch. And he would say, 'What would you like for lunch today, Celeste?' And I'd say, 'Well, I'll just have whatever you have'. That's a huge mistake with Elvis. You really didn't want to eat what Elvis ate. And they had him on a diet. They had him on a very strict diet. So, we'd get this cremated hamburger patty that looked like a hockey puck and these horrible green peas that were barely green any more. They were just, you know, shriveled up little green peas. May have been some sliced tomatoes on the plate. I ate it. I can't believe I got it down. But he looked terrific. He just looked fabulous. I don't know if people realize how exquisitely beautiful Elvis Presley was. But he profile, you know, looked like a Roman coin. And those royal blue eyes. He was just exquisitely beautiful, especially in 1968.
Q : Did he ever talk to you about acting in more meaty roles.
A : Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. He felt very stifled doing what he was doing. I don't think he really believed that there was much more musically he could do on screen. You know, as far as doing a special, that's one thing. But doing another musical, you know, I was in one of his last movies. There were only a couple after me. And you could tell that he was very burned out. But he loved doing 'Live A Little, Love A Little'. At least, I felt he did, because it was one of his first comedic roles, you know, where he was... It was really a modern movie. He was playing a kind of a, you know, like a playboy photographer, I mean, Playboy Magazine photographer. And it was a sophisticated comedy. And I think he appreciated that. We had a good time. We had a really good time.
Q : Do you think Colonel Parker held him back from better roles?
A : Well, I do. I do. Yes. Elvis, as I said, was so talented. I remember on the set that he was singing opera and musical comedy and picking up instruments and jamming with the guys. And there was so much uncharted talent. You know, I felt that Colonel Parker really could of helped him back into the role of rock and roller. And I really think Elvis could have been a great actor, one of the greats of our times. So, I never met the Colonel. But I could sort of sense that Elvis was very, very stifled by that much control, you know.
Q : What was the last time you saw Elvis?
A : That would have been the last time I saw him in person would have been in 1968 when... We spoke one other time, but that would have been the last time that I actually saw him in person.
Q : Why do you think Elvis is more popular now than ever?
A : I can tell you what it was for me. I grew up with him. I saw his first performances on the Ed Sullivan Show even though my mother, who now loves Elvis, was scandalized by, you know, the Elvis The Pelvis nickname. I grew up with him and, when I met him, I couldn't believe how much charisma he had, how nice he was. He was so nice. He loved people. He was so warm and so kind and so generous that he was a bigger than life person. It was really one of the highlights of my life. I'll never forget being with Elvis and being part of the camaraderie. It was so, so special. He was a very dear, precious person. So, that's my recollection of Elvis. Those are my feelings.
But, of course, he's remembered for his music and the legend and his generosity and Graceland and the whole body of music. I don't think anyone ever appreciated what a fabulous actor he was. You know, had he been able to select material that he wanted to do rather than one musical after another, if his life hadn't been so controlled by the powers that be, we might have him up there with Marlon Brando and Al Pacino today. Because he was a terrific actor. He was a natural. But his warmth and sincerity and I think the incredible back story of his struggle that, you know, it came through. It was in his music. It was in his eyes. It was in his heart.
It was ... He touched me, deeply.
Elvis Presley and Celeste Yarnall.
Live A Little, Love a Little - MGM 1968
About Celeste Yarnall
Celeste Yarnall was born on July 26, 1944, in Long Beach, California.
Right after high school, Celeste began work as an actress, model, and spokesperson. One day while walking along General Service Studios in Hollywood, she walked past Ozzie and Rick Nelson's offices. Yarnall was discovered by them and appeared in a 1962 episode of Ozzie and Harriet. Soon after, Celeste landed the role of a college student in Jerry Lewis's The Nutty Professor (with fellow Elvis co-stars Stella Stevens and Julie Parrish) and a cameo in A New Kind of Love with Paul Newman.
In 1964, Yarnall won the title of Miss Rheingold in a contest which had netted her an impressive 20 million votes. The subsequent ad campaign boosted her career significantly because, as the Rheingold Beer spokesperson, she made personal appearances all over the East Coast, as well as being featured in print ads, radio, and television commercials. This triumph was followed by appearances on popular television series such as Bewitched, Hogan's Heroes, and an episode of Star Trek entitled 'The Apple' in which she played Yeoman Martha Landon. After doing the the films Around the World Under the Sea and The Face of Eve, Celeste got the opportunity to star with the King himself in the 1968 film Live a Little, Love a Little. Even though Yarnall wasn't Elvis' primary love interest in the film, she still got to hear him sing 'A Little Less Conversation' to her. Today, Celeste's memory of the movie is: 'I loved working with Elvis and had a great time on the film. Elvis was one of the dearest people I've ever met and certainly the most handsome!'.
Yarnall's talent and beauty afforded her several honors during this period of her career: In 1967, she was selected as a 'Deb Star' at the Hollywood Stars of Tomorrow awards. At the Cannes Film Festival, she was awarded the Foreign Press Corps' 'Most Photogenic Beauty of the Year'. In 1968, Celeste was declared the National Association of Theater Owners' Most Promising New Star.
Celeste continued to make films such as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, The Mechanic, Scorpio, and the horror movies Beast of and Velvet Vampire. However, when in 1973 Yarnall had a daughter, Camilla, the actress felt she should find another career. At that time, she started her own commercial real estate business which specialized in assisting entertainment companies either lease or purchase their office headquarters. This endeavor was such a success that she started her own firm Celeste Yarnall & Associates. Celeste also managed several talented screenwriters including the writer of On Deadly Ground, the Steven Seagal film.
In the 1990's, Yarnall returned to the screen, appearing in Driving Me Crazy with Milton Berle and Born Yesterday with Melanie Griffith. In 1993, Celeste published a holistic healthcare book for cats entitled Cat Care, Naturally - Celeste Yarnall's Complete Guide To Holistic Health Care For Cats.
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